What is Manipulation?
Some people communicate in manipulative ways. Their purpose is to get the response or outcome they want, regardless of the impact on the other person. They might manipulate if they think you won’t agree to what they want. So they ask in a vague or roundabout way instead of being straightforward and honest. Signs of manipulation include:
✴ You feel confused or unsure about what you are being asked to do.
✴ You feel uncomfortable, anxious, or pressured.
✴ You do what someone requests but feel fearful or resentful.
Examples of manipulation:
✴ ‘You go out. I’ll stay home and do all the chores as usual.’
✴ ‘My friends’ husbands always take out the rubbish (wash the dishes, vacuum). It’s a pity you never do but I suppose I’m not important to you.’
✴ ‘You’re my wife (husband). You’d want to spend more time with me if you cared enough.’ How to Protect Yourself…
There are many ways to challenge manipulation. You can challenge by asking the person to be specific about their request, or to give you more detail about what they want from you, or to say what they want you to do. These questions will reveal whether it is a genuine, reasonable request, or it is manipulative, deceitful, or a form of bullying.
If it is manipulation, you can say that you won’t be doing it. If the person continues to pressure you, you can do whatever will keep you safe, including leaving a situation, or stating that you are feeling pressured and that he (or she) needs to stop. You can:
✴ Be clear about what you want to happen: that the person stops their request/demand, or you change the subject or end a phone call.
✴ To protect yourself, consider how the manipulative person might respond: become angry, escalate the demands, pretend to be devastated by your refusal? Do whatever will keep you safe.
✴ You can check whether you use manipulation. If so, change how you make requests. Strategies to expose and challenge manipulation:
✴ ‘What is it you want/are really saying/are telling me?’
This is the most straightforward question to get someone to be more direct.
✴ ‘It seems like you are asking (or telling) me to do something, but I am not sure what it is. Can you be more specific?’
✴ ‘I understand / I hear that you see (issue) like this, but I see it like … ‘
Other people are entitled to their point of view but it does not make it right: it just makes it theirs. You are entitled to state your view and remind them that their view is just that, their view.
✴ ‘What did you just ask me to do?’ OR What are telling me I should do? You can say this with surprise, humour or shock.
✴ ‘So what you are saying is …’
Example: ‘So what you are saying is you don’t like the way I am doing it and you want me to do it your way?’ Don’t add your own thoughts or behaviours to this, simply reflect back what you believe the person is insisting that you do.
✴ ‘What is it you are asking me?’
Some people disguise a command as a question, such as ‘Why did you …’ OR ‘Have you done …?’ Instead of justifying yourself, you challenge their right to tell you what to do.
✴ ‘When you …, I feel … and I wish you would …’
Example: ‘When you are late for a special date, I feel hurt and I’m worried that you are losing interest in me.’ This might be a genuine concern or it might be disguised pressure to make you feel guilty.
You don’t need to give someone an immediate answer. You have the right to answer when you choose.
✴ ‘I need some time to think about this. I’ll get back to you.’
Then if you are pressured to reply, you can say, ‘Stop pressuring me. I’ll tell you when I decide’.
✴ ‘I’m feeling confused/afraid. I need time to work out what’s going on.’ You have the right to take time to work out what you want, which might be to say, ‘No’.
✴ ‘I don’t want to talk about this now.’
If this is an excuse to avoid something, this is manipulative. However, if you are trying to avoid the topic because you fear aggression, this is protective and not manipulative.
✴ ‘What are you going to do about it?’
This is useful when someone repeatedly says how difficult things are for them, but for every suggestion you make, they say, ’Yes, but …’ with an excuse. You can say, ‘I don’t want to hear you repeatedly complaining about this when you do nothing about it.’
Some more powerful push-backs for when you are feeling pressured or uncomfortable:
✴ ‘Why do you ask?’
Using a firm voice, challenge intrusive questions and interference.
✴ Look at them with firm eye contact and assertive body language without speaking. Using self-calming breathing will empower you to remain strong and determined.
✴ ‘Ummm, excuse me?!’
A firm questioning tone indicates that what they said was not OK.
The effect on the other person
These responses are not aimed at frustrating the other person or winning an argument. They are to call attention to manipulative behaviour so that you don’t get caught up in it, and agree to something you don’t want to do before you realise you’ve been manipulated.
You can protect yourself by recognising risks. If it is safe to do so, you can challenge manipulative or aggressive demands. Otherwise, you can appear to give in until you decide how to keep yourself safe. Perhaps ending a relationship, or seeking outside help.
If the person continues with more manipulative responses, you have options:
✴ You can use the ‘broken record’ technique by repeating your question or challenge ✴ Continue with push-backs
✴ End the conversation.
You are aiming for authentic, honest and considerate communication where both people take responsibility for their words, emotions, body language and behaviour.
In Ignite Your Power: Unmasking the Five Faces of Anger, see Chapter 14. Responding using Four Modes, and Chapter 15. Disarming Manipulation.